Ben McLemore should keep on soaring up to the No. 1 pick. Will he? That's a different question.
Unlike most years, the 2013 NBA draft hasn't thrust a single name forward as the prohibitive favorite to be selected at No. 1. Ben McLemore, Nerlens Noel, Alex Len and potentially even Otto Porter are all in the mix to supplant Anthony Davis as the most recent first selection.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have a little while to figure it all out, but the solution is rather simple: Draft the Kansas shooting guard and rejoice in having selected the top prospect on the board.
McLemore only spent one year playing for Bill Self in Allen Fieldhouse, but he enjoyed a meteoric rise, one buoyed by his scoring ability and defensive potential. While he faded down the stretch, plagued by inconsistency, he still displayed more than enough talent to be considered the No. 1 prospect in the 2013 draft class.
When a team is deciding whose name David Stern should announce as the top overall pick, need shouldn't typically come into the equation. That changes if a contending team somehow vaults into the No. 1 spot, but usually we're dealing with a bottom-feeder or an up-and-comer.
In those situations, as is the case for the Cavs, talent trumps need. You can worry about the fit later on, but for now, focus on finding the most talented player out there in the hope of finding a franchise centerpiece.
This changes if there's already a superstar on the team. Cleveland lays claim to Kyrie Irving, so point guard is out of the equation, but no other player should prohibit the selection of any other position. Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson both have large amounts of upside, but not enough to block a shooting guard of power forward from being the pick.
In Chad Ford's most recent mock draft (subscription required), he had the Cavs selecting Noel as McLemore fell to the Phoenix Suns at No. 5:
McLemore remains in the top 5, but I'm starting to have my doubts. I love the talent. But his lack of preparation for the draft is hurting him. Multiple sources told me that his workout in Phoenix was not impressive; he wasn't in shape, and he struggled to keep up in the workout. I heard similar things in Orlando. McLemore is in a tug-of-war right now between adviser Rodney Blackstock and his agency Rivals. It's kept McLemore out of the gym and for the most part, out of workouts. How much will all of this affect the draft stock? I'm told teams are worried. But how worried? Enough for one of the most talented players in the draft to slide further?
Problem is, that's a terrible reason.
Individual workouts have historically proven to be massively overrated, and Ford's second sentence should take priority over everything else here. Character issues can lead to major red flags, but McLemore consistently played hard during the season.
Effort level isn't exactly a concern, and an office-based battle that's keeping him from workouts isn't something that should throw up those signs of distress.
Even though he's not working out particularly well, McLemore remains the most talented player in this draft class and the clear-cut choice to be No. 1 on most Big Boards. That's where he sits on mine and NBA Draft Lead Writer Jonathan Wasserman's.
If you could craft a prospect from scratch, one of the first things you would give them is a shooting motion that looks exactly like Ben McLemore's. This is one of the many reasons that the Ray Allen comparisons are not in the least bit faulty.
Based on my projection systems and Allen's career, the all-time leader in three-pointers made should have been drafted at...wait for it...the No. 0.74 pick in the 1996 NBA draft. That's right: He performed better than is historically expected from No. 1 picks.
Expect McLemore to enjoy a similar start to his professional career.
His form is absolutely perfect, and he elevates remarkably well before letting fly at the top of his jump. It enables him to get his shot off in even the tightest scenarios, and McLemore rarely has shots swatted back into his mug.
Additionally, the 2-guard has an insane ability to square his body to the basket, as you can see in the video above. Whether he's in a spot-up situation or curling around a screen to get open, McLemore is going to have his shoulders squared perfectly to the hoop, giving him that picture-perfect form we've come to know and love.
Shooting strokes can be taught at the professional level, and coaches often tear apart broken jumpers in an attempt to build range, but no such thing is necessary with McLemore. He'll enjoy virtually unlimited range at the next level from Day 1.
The consensus All-American was an incredible long-range marksman during his one and only season at Kansas. Lofting up 4.7 three-point attempts per game, he drilled them 42 percent of the time. For the sake of comparison, the reigning Rookie of the Year, Damian Lilllard, took 7.2 three-pointers per game and made 40.9 percent of them during his final season at Weber State.
McLemore's three-point stroke is to die for, but that's, by no means, his only scoring strength.
Using his 42-inch vertical to great success, the shooting guard thrives cutting to the basket. He can finish dunks in transition, and he's an extremely gifted cutter in half-court sets. His freshman-year highlight reel is flowing over with backdoor cuts that led to easy alley-oops.
McLemore provides highlights, but he can also give steady production to a team. The biggest knock on his offense is his ball-handling ability, and that's something that can be improved over time.
Jason Sean Fuiman wrote, "Has questionable ball-handling skills," while Owen P O'Malley said, "Has been compared to Grant Hill, but some scouts feel he doesn't have the ball-handling and shooting skills to be an effective guard."
We don't know yet if McLemore can come close to touching Kobe's legendary work ethic, but ball-handling is something that can be taught over the course of an NBA career. This particular 2-guard should eventually be able to create his own shot more successfully.
McLemore's NBA impact won't be limited to one end of the court. Noel's will, as he's very much a defensive specialist, but the Jayhawk product can capably play both defense and offense.
The following comes from DraftExpress' Jonathan Givony:
Defensively, McLemore similarly shows excellent potential, with his quick feet, decent length, solid frame and ability to cover ground quickly. He is very elusive getting over the top of screens, and can stay in front of even the most athletic shooting guards he matches up with his strong lateral quickness. At the same time, McLemore is still figuring out how to maximize himself on this end of the floor consistently, which is a common problem with young players making the transition from high school to college basketball, especially those not known as fiery competitors. His positioning, awareness and focus leaves a bit to be desired at times, as it occasionally looks like he's only going at half speed and will get lost off the ball. With the tools he shows, though, there's little doubt that he has the ability to be a terrific option here, as long as he puts his mind to it.
Just as is the case with many first-year players at the collegiate level, McLemore struggled to stay engaged on the defensive end of the court. It's a problem that plagues many young players, but it's not an indictment of their defensive skills.
Quite often, as Givony notes, McLemore showed off some tremendous defensive potential. His athleticism certainly helps, but he has good instincts, particularly when jumping into passing lanes. The shooting guard's steal numbers aren't too gaudy—just 1.0 per game—but he deflected passes often, even if they didn't necessarily result in turnovers.
Plus, on a team that finished 15th in the nation in defensive rating, McLemore had the team's second-highest number of defensive win shares. Only shot-blocking specialist Jeff Withey had more than the 2-guard's 2.4.
Here's one hidden secret in this draft that should help convince you McLemore can develop into a lockdown defender: Victor Oladipo was an awful defensive player during his freshman season at Indiana, displaying many of the faults that now describe McLemore, and now he's easily the best perimeter defender in this draft class.
This 6'4" shooting guard can enjoy the same type of progression, getting better each and every year, but he'll be doing so in the NBA rather than the NCAA. Given his incredible lateral quickness and the breakable habits like ball-watching, which he can fix with proper coaching, it's not out of the realm of possibilities that the Jayhawk eventually surpasses the Hoosier as the superior defender.
Lack of Physical Red Flags
McLemore does have some flags regarding his draft stock, but none of them deal with his body. They're centered around his poor showings at the virtually meaningless individual workouts and his inconsistency at the end of Kansas' season. You know, because all freshmen are great from start to finish...
The same cannot be said for Nerlens Noel's red flags.
The Kentucky 7-footer, for all his appealing defensive traits, is as skinny as a supermodel in a famine, and he's only working with one fully functioning ACL. If he's drafted at No. 1, Noel will become the first player who might need the aid of crutches to help him shake Stern's hand at center stage.
Who should go No. 1?
Despite what Adrian Peterson would lead you to believe, ACL tears are not particularly easy to recover from. Noel won't be ready for the start of the season, he'll miss training camp and Summer League action, and there's a chance that he never lives up to his potential. Careers have been derailed by lesser injuries in the past.
Noel is a high-upside pick, but he's by no means a sure thing. McLemore is.
The Cavs are keeping their cards close to the vest leading up to the 2013 NBA draft, but while Noel presents the team with a full house, the Kansas shooting guard is a royal flush.
He has the scoring ability and outside stroke to thrive as the next high-scoring 2-guard in the Association, and he should eventually develop into a lockdown defender. In a draft filled with question marks and limited upside, McLemore is the clear answer.